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One Year On: Assessing the EU’s Response to the Arab Spring

09/05/2012, Rome

The Rome office of the European Council of Foreign Relations (ECFR) organised a brainstorming session/roundtable on North Africa in collaboration with the Institute for International Affairs (IAI). The debate took place on May 9th and was animated by Ettore Greco, Nathalie Tocci and Stefano Silvestri, respectively Director, Vice-Director and President of the Institute of International Affairs and by Nick Witney and Anthony Dworkin, Senior Policy Fellows at the ECFR.

Participants included Maurizio Massari, Italy’s Foreign Affairs Special Envoy for the Mediterranean and the Arab Spring; Giuseppe Scognamiglio, Unicredit Group SPA Executive Vice President and Head of Public Affairs, as well as ECFR Council Member; MP Lapo Pistelli; Valeria Biagiotti, Advisor for the Analysis and Programming Unit of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Giacomo Filibeck, Democratic Party’s Foreign Department Coordinator; Stefano Queirolo Palmas, Italian Foreign Affairs Ministry Coordinating Secretary for the Gulf Countries; Erman Topçu, Second Secretary to the Turkish Embassy in Italy; and numerous researchers and experts.

The discussion focused on recent domestic and regional trends, as well as the EU’s contribution to democratization and development in North Africa. It was emphasized that future economic and security challenges are the true obstacles to an open political process. In fact, the Arab revolutions are more likely to fail because of the extremely difficult economic situation and lack of employment opportunities, rather than the elections and the overall constitutional process. At the regional level, the most significant trends include renewed efforts towards regional cooperation, in particular in the framework of the 5+5 Dialogue, and the emergence of Islamist parties as the key actors in national parliaments and government coalitions. These trends contribute to making the regional landscape fluid and in constant flux.

The debate underscored the lack of an adequate response on Europe’s part to the challenges and revolutionary changes prompted by the Arab spring. The European response, focused mainly on a revision of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), is characterised by both objective and instrumental shortcomings. As regards objectives, the emphasis has remained on neo-liberal reforms rather than on the links between migration and development. One participant argued that the only field in which the EU could make concessions without involving capital is migration; however, it was also underlined that the EU is not ready to take on such a commitment because of persisting political, cultural and security reservations. As concerns instruments, the debate focused on the diverse and incoherent conditionality applied by the EU vis-à-vis the different Arab countries. As stressed by one participant, conditionality should aim at establishing a legitimate and accountable government and should focus on the democratisation process in those countries that are of key interest to Europe.